The Essential Guide to Rotorua
The very core of New Zealand bubbles up and breaks the surface in Rotorua, one of the big tourist hotspots of the North Island. Rotorua is quite literally alive. It breathes steam through cracks in the road, shoots soaring water geysers beside spectacularly coloured lakes and bubbling mud and boiling hot pools are dotted all around this geothermal town.
The town is surrounded by 18 lakes and native forest. You’ll find plenty of adrenalin-inducing activities to make you long for a hot spring soak at the end of the day.
To spend a weekend in Rotorua is hardly enough time to scrape its remarkable surface, but here some highlights that Expedia travellers love.
Lets address the elephant in the room. Yes, the scent of sulphur wafts through the air in Rotorua. It stings the nose of the first-timer but locals aren’t bothered. And after a few days in town, you’ll hardly notice it either. As long as the fiery depths let off steam all day, every day, there isn’t any risk of a big blow out.
Rotorua is also home to some of the best Maori cultural attractions in New Zealand. For a great insight into Maori culture, visit this cultural institute for at least a few hours or even dinner. Te Po is described as a “feast of story telling, entertainment and Maori cuisine”. You’ll be officially welcomed with a powhiri and experience the haka (warrior’s challenge) up close and personal. If you stay for the evening show, you’ll have food cooked in a hangi (earth oven) along with more contemporary cuisine.
For a mud pool swim, visit the ominously sounding Hell’s Gate. Its Maori name is Tikitere and this is where you need to go for a soak in a mud pool. Slather yourself in a full body mask and wallow in the warm mud – it’s much nicer than it sounds! This is also where the world’s largest hot waterfall is located and well worth just wandering through with your camera if you don’t have time for a swim.
New Zealand’s most colourful geothermal park is Wai-O-Tapu – meaning scared waters. Bring your camera for these brightly coloured pools that boil at over 100C. You’ll also see Lady Knox geyser shooting water up to 20 metres and get to watch bubbling mud plop mesmerisingly into the pools.
If you’re not sure what you fancy, hit Eat Streat (note the spelling!) and wander among the restaurants, bars and cafes that spill out onto this part of Tutanekai Street that is now pedestrianised. What started out as a trial for the city has turned into a popular and permanent dining precinct with a $2 million upgrade and a covered walkway.
Burn off your own steam on one of the many adrenalin-inducing activities in Rotorua. Adrenalin junkies should head to Agroventures Adventure Park to ride the human-powered monorail, freefall over a wind tunnel, or swing at 130kph on the Swoop.
There’s also white water rafting, kayaking, luging, mountain biking, jet boating and parasailing. Or if that isn’t enough, jump into a huge plastic ball and Zorb down a hill.
For kids, the Agrodome offers an up close and personal encounter with sheep. Not very exciting to Kiwis, but our overseas guests and children who don’t grow up on farms lap it up. Get to feed a baby lamb, watch sheep be shorn, cows get milked and farm dogs work. There’s also alpaca, pigs, emu, deer and ostrich for the true animal lovers.
Where to stay
Motels and hotels line Fenton Street, many with their own hot pools or in room spa pools. Expedia’s Aussie travellers usually spend two nights in town and that’s plenty of time to enjoy the pool and check out the sights.
For something a bit special, the Regent of Rotorua is a boutique hotel that was formerly a 1960s motel and has been refurbished with lavish and impeccable attention to detail. This hotel would not be out of place in LA or New York, yet it is only steps from the heart of town for shopping and dining.
Peppers on the Point is for those who want stunning lakeside views and a serious amount of pampering and fine dining.
December and January are the most popular times for Expedia’s Aussie travellers, so remember to book well in advance.
And before you leave town to breathe the fresh air, pop into the Rotorua Museum where the stories of the region are told to really get a handle on this unique part of the world.
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